Yum Yum Moments

Delicious cakes in Marks and Spencer

Delicious cakes in Marks and Spencer (Photo credit: Gran Canaria Go)

My middle child and I had a row about “Yum Yums” yesterday.  “Yum Yums” for the unitiated are sugar-covered doughnut-type cakes to die-for from Marks & Spencer. I bought Yum Yums as a snack (before you shout, yes, I am aware of the endless lecturing in the media at the moment about sugar being more dangerous than alcohol, drugs, smoking, skydiving, solo circumnavigating the globe etc) thinking that my son would be pleased. I bought them with him in mind, a sort of bribery to get him to his tennis lesson after school.  His response: “I hate Yum Yums, yuk, disgusting”.

So what you may ask?  In itself, nothing new, same old “never getting it right” I suppose.  Predictably, our interaction degenerated from therein to what can only be described as a right royal dressing-down by child of mother. I could rattle on about lack of respect, a need for firmer boundaries, a lecture on courtesy etc but actually although all of the above is valid what I actually started to think about what something quite different: success and how you measure it.

What has my child’s abject horror at the sight of a harmless Yum Yum got to do with that?  Being a parent, particularly a stay-at-home parent, is a job like all other jobs in some ways but a job unlike any other in many ways. Perhaps one of the most difficult aspects of parenting is the lack of any sort of reassurance that you are doing well, any external acknowledgement of success.  In fact, many people regard staying at home with your children as the soft option.

Many days with children can feel like an endless critique, an interminable ‘Yum Yum moment’. Conversations with children can become negotiations of the greatest sensitivity, requiring the skills of the United Nations.  However when resolution is reached, there is no-one there to say “hey, you did a good job there” or to high-five you. There is no-one to marvel at your patience and ingenuity.  There are no resolution skills courses, no time management courses, no presentation courses to go on in order to further your professionalism.  All this and you are dealing, on a minute by minute basis, with little people who often defy all logic and all reason whilst throwing in the odd tantrum or left field comment such as “I want to be in another family not ours” (my daughter’s most recent refrain) to sorely test your people management skills.

It is not surprising then that we often question our parenting skills, wonder whether we are failing.  We have no annual appraisal, no slap on the back, certainly no bonus or salary increase.  So how do we measure our success?  Success lies in all those moments which make the ‘Yum Yum moment’ worthwhile – when your child is happy, laughing, doing well at school and when they tell you that they love you.  Those moments far outweigh the ‘Yum Yum moments’, they are precious and to be cherished.

There will not be much external approbation and you will have to put up with the glazed-over look at dinner parties when you say you are a stay-at-home mother.  Your successes will not be shouted from the rooftops (although reassuringly your failings will remain largely unnoticed too!) but you will know when you’ve done well and the highs are incomparable with the highs from the average job. It’s worth remembering that actually you are doing the most difficult, most relentless, job of all even if you sometimes doubt your ability to succeed and your hard work goes largely unrecognised.  It is OK to punch the air sometimes and go “yeah” – anyway, probably no-one will notice and if they do, so what?

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No Internal Dialogue…

This is a "thought bubble". It is an...

This is a “thought bubble”. It is an illustration depicting thought. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

You know where you are with your children.  Yesterday, I went to the hairdresser and had my hair coloured and cut.  My new appearance generated a favourable response from the mothers at school, from my friends and from my husband (once I had pointed out that I had done something to my hair – I couldn’t expect him to notice without prompting).  My youngest child just stared at my head as if I had suddenly grown an extra ear or nose, no comment made but I felt the disapproval.  My middle child didn’t notice any change at all, he was much more concerned with some never-ending explanation of why he had got one thing wrong in his maths test.  My eldest child was more observant and didn’t hold back.  “Don’t like it” he said, “preferred it as it was”. I suppose I should be grateful that he a) noticed and b) didn’t use one of his incomprehensible descriptors like “sick” (although would have quite liked “epic” as I have noticed everything is “epic” for him except me).

It got me thinking about filters.  Children are largely devoid of filters.  Thinking before speaking is a skill which is mostly definitely learned and not inherent. One of the delights of being a stay-at-home mother (let’s face it there have be to some bonuses to a grossly under-appreciated job) is never quite knowing what your child is going to say next and just how inappropriate it can be at the most inopportune moment.   This ranges from the excruciatingly embarrassing – “Mummy, why has that woman got a moustache?”whilst standing approximately three feet away and pointing directly,to the downright bizarre such as when my son asked me in a crowded supermarket whether babies were born out of a mother’s mouth…I didn’t really know where to go with that one except to comment that he was on the right lines with orifices but wrong location!

Generally speaking, however, we can laugh off whatever our children say – admittedly when my daughter asks me whether I want a glass of wine with my breakfast in front of a whole hotel dining room it can be hard (have to resort to the ‘I’m a mother = functioning alcoholic’ line). For adults without filters, there is less excuse but it seems to be a remarkably common condition – I call it “no internal dialogue”. We all know people like that and somehow when an adult tells you how it is – especially with regard to personal appearance – it is not quite as endearing as a five year old child.

Not that long ago, I turned up to meet someone for the first time wearing my gym kit – (for regular readers, I had actually been exercising as opposed to just wearing…) – this person on introduction to me said “who’s been eating all the chocolates then?” (frankly, gob-smackingly awful on its own and BTW before you picture me as morbidly obese, I think my friends would agree that this was not really a fair description).  He followed up this little gem, when realising that perhaps he had said something at best inappropriate at worst downright rude, with the immortal line, “I’m so sorry, I thought you were pregnant” (which I most definitely am not). As you can imagine the meeting was nothing short of excruciating after that – although I have to admit to enjoying watching him squirm.

So let’s enjoy all the wonderful, bizarre, sometimes inappropriate things our children come out with and for those of you without any “internal dialogue”, engage brain before mouth.

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Perceptions

English: Beko Washing Machine. Türkçe: Beko Ça...

English: Beko Washing Machine. Türkçe: Beko Çamaşır Makinesi. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

If I was in any doubt as to what my children think of me then my daughter has put me entirely straight on the matter.  Aged 4 she has become rather obsessed with the bigger questions in life – how do we die? When do we die?  Where do we go when we die?  I have tried my best to answer her questions in a way she would understand, reassuring her without looking totally clueless.  However, it would appear that her concerns were slightly more mundane – nodding sagely as I told her about the ins and outs of Heaven, she asked “when you die, who will do the laundry?”  If ever a question could bring one crashing down to earth from the contemplation of the esoteric delights of Heaven, then this is it.  My daughter sees me as a washing machine.  Her concerns about me dying are not about losing a loved one but rather focused on who will ensure she has a clean school uniform for Monday.

I would like to say that my sons who are older (and therefore supposedly wiser) can appreciate the finer points of who I am.  This is not the case.  My elder son seems to think that I do nothing all day and his regular accusation is “Mum, you don’t do anything for us”.  I can honestly say that there is hardly anything that I can imagine that my son could say that annoys me more than that particular accusation.  It is guaranteed to send me into a rant about the usual “you don’t know how lucky you are” stuff and an endless list of examples of my activity on his behalf. Rant over, I always ask myself why on earth I felt it necessary to justify my existence to a 9 year old…but I can’t stop myself. My extreme reaction to his statement always bemuses him and my humiliation is complete when he says “it’s ok, mum, no need to get all stressed, I didn’t mean it”.

My middle son is trying to get his head around the fact that I did have a career before I accepted this long-term, badly paid, hideously long hours position of mother.  He asked what I did before I had children and when I told him that I had worked in an office like his father does now, he looked incredulous.  He asked me what my job is now, “Cleaner, taxi driver, cook, children’s social diary co-ordinator” I replied. Incredulous look again. “But when do you do all those jobs?  Do you do them when we are in bed?” he asked. Clearly my description of my current job status did not ring any bells with him at all and I am slightly concerned that he now thinks that when he is tucked up in bed, I am busy driving around the county with a 2 way radio, taxi-ing random people from here to there before returning to cook 40 covers in a restaurant and finishing off with a few hours cleaning. Perception that I was working those sort of hours would at least explain why my daughter recently asked me if I had been 100 years old yet.

Does it bother me that my children perceive me like this?  No, not really, after all this is what I do at the moment, at this stage in our lives. Yes, it would be nice if just once a week, one child picked up a wet towel abandoned on the floor after a bath, folded it and put it back on the towel rail in the bathroom – but I know this is just a pipe dream. Yes, it would be nice if just once a month, one child attempted the highly difficult and dangerous task of placing a plate in the dishwasher – but I know this is beyond all expectations.

What does bother me a little bit more is my own perception of myself as only the sum of these things.  2014 needs to be the year when I put this to rest and strike off “professional procrastinator” from my CV.  Of course I shall continue to be a fairly average cleaner, taxi driver etc for my children, but also this year is my year to start something for myself.  This blog was the start of it for me – this writing lark, and now I’ve got to get out there and do something with it….if only to see the incredulous look on my children’s faces if I do something that surprises them, something that falls outside of my usual job remit!

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Dads – they’re grrrrrrrreat….

Frosties de Kellog's, poderosa energía

Frosties de Kellog’s, poderosa energía (Photo credit: frosklis)

Forget Tiger Mums, make way for Tiger Dads.  Forget Tony “They’re Grrrrrrreat” Tiger of Frosties fame, I’m talking about survival of the fittest; who is the King of the Tigers?

Tiger Mums have been getting a lot of negative press recently and to be honest, I think most of it is justified.  This is probably because Tiger Mums make me feel small part inadequate, small part lazy and most part cross.  We all want the best for our children and we all feel proud and rather over-excited when they are successful at something – we have to stop ourselves shouting out – ‘that’s my little Johnny, yes, over there, the one who is so so so good at bla bla bla”. However, putting my children forward for MENSA at age 2, insisting on distinction in grade 8 piano by the age of 4, expecting them to be national squad players in at least 6 sports by the age of 10 is just not my thing.  Anyway, the genes don’t look good for my children – forget MENSA, I can hardly remember my name these days; I can only just about play Chopsticks despite learning the piano for ten years and as for sport, the only running I do now is a bath at the end of the day.

So what about Dads?  Unlike women who often tend to try and hide their “tiger” tendencies – pretending to be all laid back whilst subjecting their children to hour upon hour of extra coaching on the quiet – their little secret – most men are the absolute opposite.  They are competitive and they don’t care who knows it and they are utterly incapable of hiding it.

I am not suggesting that all women are like this, or all men are like that – that’s far too simplistic .  Of course, there are men out there who are pushing their children to extremes – true Tiger Dads – we’ve all read about them – just as there are lots of women who are competitive for their children without being obsessional. However, just as often little boys behave differently to little girls, the same tendencies are played out in adulthood in relation to their children. Actually most men are not really Tiger Dads, just typical Dads.

Take a kids’ cricket match as an example. Forget the competition between the boys playing – obviously that’s there and anyway a bit of competition is healthy.  No, look at the Dads, listen to the Dads.  It is as if they have regressed in age by about 30 years and our living out their former competitive glories through their sons. Like Father, like Son. There is humour and ribbing and an awful lot of chat (and that applies to both the boys and their fathers!)

So why is it that the Tiger Mums get the negative press whereas the Dads largely slip beneath the radar, their competitiveness laughed at and even expected?  Well, I think it is because the Dads’ competitive nature is so much more palatable to the observer – they are very open about it; they take it seriously but there is still much lighthearted banter amongst themselves.  They behave in some ways like the children they are watching – over-excited and noisily competitive – but it feels very natural and not obsessive in the way Tiger Mums are so often portrayed to be.

This sort of competition is healthy.  One of my largest problems with schools and children’s activities in the UK today is this overbearing nannying of our children so that we protect them from ever losing at anything, from ever being disappointed.  Life is not like that and our kids need to experience the reality of life from early on in a controlled and nurturing environment otherwise they are going to have one large shock when they are grown-up and out there in the real world.

We need to teach our children that you win some, you lose some.  We need to teach them that a degree of competition is healthy and there will be a winner and a loser.  We have to stop giving every child a medal just so that no-one is singled out as being successful.  A confident and balanced child will learn in childhood that they can’t be number 1 at everything, that they will come second, third or whatever and that is just the way it is.  They will be secure enough in their own abilities to be able to shrug off the disappointments but also enjoy their successes.  Success has become a dirty word and it shouldn’t be.  It should be something to be celebrated.

So let these “Tiger Dads” be.  I for one find them very amusing and very unthreatening.  Their competitiveness is not unappealing but rather endearing.  They just want their kids to do well and there is nothing wrong with that, it’s entirely normal.  Of course, there are lots of mothers out there who have got the balance just right too. But true Tiger Mums and true Tiger Dads take note, competition is healthy, obsessional pushing is not.

Unpaid Leave

English: Logo for the United States TV series ...

English: Logo for the United States TV series “The Office”. Français : Logo de la série télé “The Office” diffusée aux États-Unis. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For the first time in 9 years I am taking unpaid leave from my job.  I am going to Colombia to visit family and leaving my colleague, the husband (strictly speaking my underling as I am Chief Executive and he is my deputy with special responsibility for “financial services and support”) in charge.

Now without wishing to cast aspersions on my colleague’s abilities, I do have my reservations about leaving him to run the “office”.  I am not convinced that he really understands the full extent of his new responsibilities and what the day to day running of this extremely busy “office” entails.  Not only will he have to deal with the administrative nightmare of scheduling but he will also have to deal with three of my most difficult clients for a whole week.  These clients can be particularly demanding and do expect to have someone on call 24/7.  It is not unknown for them to call me at 3 am and expect me to perform a full laundering service or the like.

Of course, being such important clients, it is vital that my colleague and I manage a seamless handover of responsibilities and that these clients are virtually unaware of the temporary change in their client relationship manager. I have warned my colleague not to expect much praise or affirmation from these clients – indeed rather to expect numerous complaints and a regular and often harsh critique of services provided.

Unfortunately for my colleague, the “office” driver, chef and laundry assistant are also away the same week as me so he will have to perform their duties too.  I realise that he will feel this goes way beyond his job specification and I can only apologise for asking him to do the impossible and carry out my job responsibilities and that of three other “office” workers.

I am of course aware that I am asking a huge amount of him.  To this end, I have produced a manual which outlines all the responsibilities and the schedules of our three most important clients.  I have stressed the importance to him of ensuring that the schedules run like clock-work and that our clients will not tolerate lateness or a lack of preparedness.

I am very grateful to the large number of female colleagues in different “offices” who have offered their support in my absence and have provided a telephone tree of emergency numbers in case he should find it all too much. I am much comforted by the thought that there is a strong network of very capable women ready to leap into action if required.

I am very keen to let my colleague find his way on his own, prove himself to me. To this end, I would encourage my female friends in other “offices” to hold back unless strictly necessary.  Examples of situations which do not require intervention: one or more clients dressed in totally inappropriate, clashing-coloured clothing (to be expected), one or more clients arriving at least 20 minutes late for any appointment and one or more clients appearing in unexpected places at unexpected times.  An example of a situation which does require intervention would be if you see my colleague with two clients but not the third – in this situation it would be perfectly acceptable just to ask him where the other client is (just check – in case he has dropped one of the juggling balls).

So I am going to go off on Thursday and try very hard not to think about work for a week (of course I shall be available for nightly skypes with my three most important clients) and leave my job in the very capable hands of my colleague.  Hasta Pronto!

Mad Science

Mad scientist

Mad scientist (Photo credit: BWJones)

You know how the saying goes…if you fall off a horse, you’ve got to get straight back on again.  Well, it’s taken me 2 years but I have held another “Mad Science” party for my son’s birthday and I have survived.

Two years ago, this would never have seemed possible.  That party – twelve 7 year old boys in my house (first huge error), one mad scientist and two shell-shocked, utterly horrified parents – ended with me bursting into tears of sheer relief when they all left and only narrowly avoiding an extended stay in The Priory.  The only word I can think to describe that party is apocalyptic – “Lord of the Flies” South-West London style.

It was a seminal moment in my child-rearing – the moment at which we lost total control.  The boys were in charge and it wasn’t pretty. I genuinely think I suffered with a sort of post-traumatic stress disorder after that party.  One thing was certain – never ever ever would I hold a child’s birthday party in my house again.  I have kept to that.  The other thing I thought was certain – never ever would I wish to hear the words “mad” and “science” in the same sentence let alone combined with the word “party”. Somehow my resolve weakened on this.

That brings me to today – “Mad Science” party 2.  Not content with twelve 7 year olds, this time I upped the stakes and we had twenty four 7 year olds (all boys), one mad scientist (female) and four potentially shell-shocked, utterly horrified parents (yes, this time, I shared the annual burden of the birthday party).  Before the party, as I contemplated my idiocy in agreeing to endure another two hours of utter hell, I tried to work out what sort of person would choose to endure such a party again at a significant financial cost with absolutely no visible upside.  Clearly, I am a lunatic.

Well I survived and you know what….it wasn’t actually that bad.  Admittedly the memory is already fading at the edges thanks to the indecently large glass of wine that I am currently attacking like some sort of slightly deranged, dehydrated dipsomaniac.  The mad scientist certainly earned her money this afternoon and I am fairly sure she is reconsidering her career choice (she’s just completing her teacher training) after 2 hours with 24 boys, a load of goo, dry ice, bunsen burners, potentially lethal chemicals and a non-launching rocket.  I am also certain that being a mad scientist and spending 2 hours trying to control a roomful of crazed 7 year olds must be one of the most effective forms of contraception on the market.

I know I probably shouldn’t say this but I don’t believe I’m alone – children’s birthday parties are an ordeal, something to be endured, an annual burden.  But they are a necessary rite of passage and I remember (just) the excitement I felt in the build-up to my birthday parties when I was a child. Of course I wouldn’t want to deny my children that excitement and celebration.

Two things bug me though: firstly, children’s parties were simple affairs when I was a child – some games, home-made cake and a party bag full of nothing much.  Nowadays, we are expected to shell-out hundreds of pounds on entertainers or hold our parties in ever more exotic venues, buy in the cake (gone are the days when an 8 inch round with chocolate buttons on it sufficed; no, now kids expect an entire football pitch replete with favourite team and realistic-looking icing turf) and a party bag brimming with the latest must-have toys.

Secondly, “thank you” would go a long way. Not from the kids at the party – they were all very polite; from my own children.  After every party we hold for our children, the conversation goes like this: me: “Did you enjoy your party?”, child: “Yup”, me: “Do you have anything to say?”, child – silence, me: “It would be really nice if you said thank you after all the effort we’ve made”, child “thank you”, me “not now, before would have been good…”

Time to collapse in a post-party heap.  Ticked that box for another year.  Conquered my fear of “Mad Science” parties.  Yes, it has been a good day on the whole.

Your Cabin Crew Will Now Point Out Your Nearest Exits…

airplane in sky

airplane in sky (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

Hello, anyone there…?  I’m back.  Have you missed me? Deafening silence…

You probably haven’t noticed but I’ve been away for the last couple of weeks and haven’t been blogging.  Before you get out the bunting, throw street parties and issue special edition stamps to celebrate my return, I don’t want any fuss, any fanfare – I’m a very modest, unassuming person after all – but it would be nice if someone had missed my blogging/whinging/musings about nothing very much at all.

I don’t think it would be fair of me to bang on endlessly about white sand beaches, azure seas, cocktails and all the other holiday clichés.  There all true.  I don’t want to alienate my readers – particularly British readers who have endured the most vile of winters. So instead I thought I would share with you a couple of observations about the ordeal which is “travelling” – that time of huge stress which prefaces the white sand beaches, azure seas etc. I don’t know, maybe you are a cool, calm and collected sort of traveller…not me, despite my best attempts, travelling is always rather an ordeal, a case of the end result justifying the means.

Packing is a skill I still have not mastered after 40 years. It doesn’t seem to be particularly intellectually taxing or require any particular dexterity or co-ordination – I just can’t do it well.

I usually get off to a pretty good, controlled sort of start but as the deadline for departure approaches my packing becomes frenzied, bordering on manic .  I start packing things I could not possibly have any use for, just in case…for example, on this holiday I took not one but two full first aid kits.  Why?  Good question.  What is the likelihood of me needing the entire contents of two full first aid kits on one 10 day holiday? Remote but as I said, just in case…On this holiday I took enough Calpol to administer to an entire children’s hospital – enough to give each of my 3 children a 4-6 hourly dose for the entire 10 days and still only use 1/4 of my supplies – overcatering, perhaps, but just in case…On this holiday, I took 4 jumpers and 4 cardigans, to a place where the temperature at 3am never dips below about 24 degrees.  Why?  Expecting a freak snow storm in the Indian Ocean?  You never know, just in case…

I can only think that this extreme level of preparedness harks from my Brownie Guide days, motto “Be Prepared”.  If only I had known then how much excess baggage this would mean I would be forced to take every time I go away, then I might have reconsidered my promise “To do my best” etc and turned my back on the Brownies while I still could.  So those of you with daughters, consider carefully the potential long term effects of introducing your offspring to the Guiding Movement.

Airports make me behave in a very out-of-character fashion.  I am not a mad shopper normally – I like shopping as much as the next woman but for some bizarre reason airports turning me into some sort of supermarket sweep shopping freak. I feel like I am in a shopping version of “Countdown” – up against the clock, flight leaves in 45 minutes, got to shop, got to shop, got to shop…I find myself considering purchases that I would never even look at the other side of security – a combination, I guess, of tax-free, holiday fever and that old chestnut, preparedness – what if I can’t buy ‘X’ “over there” – ‘X’ usually being something that I would never ever have use for in this country so I have no idea why I feel it might be of use on a 10 day holiday somewhere else.

Finally, time to get on the plane.  Why, please tell me, do people queue at the gate to get on to the plane?  It makes me want to scream – “Weirdos, your seats are pre-allocated, no need to queue at this point.  We’re all going to get on eventually”. I guess this might be a peculiarly British feature – queueing being part of our national identity?

The days of fervently praying that you don’t get the seat next to the crying child are unfortunately a thing of the past for me.  I always get the seat next to the crying child…my child. The first 10 minutes on a plane (assuming you are turning right like me when you get on) are spent apologising…apologising to the poor person who despite their fervent prayers is sitting next to you and your screaming child, apologising to the person sitting in the aisle seat in advance for the number of times you are going to have to climb over them during the flight, apologising for practically knocking a fellow passenger out when attempting to put your bags in the overhead locker, then apologising again for having to climb over the person sitting in the aisle seat in order to reopen the overhead locker and get out the particular Peppa Pig book that your daughter wants right now and only now.

You take off – not before you’ve watched the safety demonstration avidly – as if you have never seen it before.  For me this is complete superstition – I could pass the British Airways safety demonstration test (if there is such a thing) word perfect – but I have this horrible niggle that if I don’t watch it, then this will be the time that I have to perform a complicated passing of the life jacket strings around my waist, securing them in a knot, fully inflating my life jacket (after I have gone down the emergency chute, having removed my high heels (?)), then using the little tube to top up the air before blowing pathetically on my little whistle  (in the middle of the Atlantic Ocean???).  I’m afraid I am also always that person who surreptitiously kicks under the seat just to check my life jacket is there. Goes back to the Brownies again, “Be Prepared”.

Then off you go.  Within 3 minutes of take-off, at least one of my children has already asked me twice “Are we nearly there yet?”. Thank Goodness for inflight entertainment.  I swear my two boys, once settled in front of the screen, did not blink or utter a word for the next 12 hours. I don’t care whether that is bad mothering – flying doesn’t count, anything goes on a plane, survival is all that matters.

Destination reached – fanatical peering out of the plane windows to assess the weather.  Unbelievable, after 12 hours in the air – it’s raining…yes, we’ve travelled several thousand miles, endured so much…to step out into the identical weather we left in the UK, just warmer. Welcome to Paradise…